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Overcoming Difficulties

It was a beautiful summers day and a lazy Saturday afternoon to boot.  Mother (I) had a dreadful sinus headache.  I decided to take some medication and lie down for a while till it took effect. I closed the curtains in the bedroom to shut out the glare, hoping that passing traffic and my girls would give me a break. They did. I fell into a dreamless sleep for almost two hours. I was awakened by my 'better half' softly calling, "Come on sleepy head, time to wake up now". I struggled to surface, desperately trying to brush aside the cobwebs which Hypnos had woven so tightly around me.

Ray left the room leaving me to gather myself, and my thoughts. Thankfully,  my headache was a thing of the past, but I felt ~ peculiar. I couldn't put my finger on the strange feeling I had. Lethargic? Yes. Maybe it was just that I wasn't used to having afternoon naps.  I just wasn't moving like I should.

Ray came back into the bedroom to see why I was taking so long. I should be up and breezing down the passageway by now, but here I was, still stuck in the middle of our double bed. He asked what was wrong; I muttered something unintelligible.  He reached out and took hold of my hands, sliding me towards him until my feet were off the bed. He helped me to my feet, but my legs and feet were having none of it - they buckled under me, leaving me to thump heavily back onto the bed. We tried again, but the result was the same. I had no feeling in my lower body. Ray suggested that I may have been laying awkwardly, thus cutting off circulation. I agreed, and asked for a couple of minutes grace.

Two minutes ticked by, then five. Nothing was happening. We tried rubbing my legs, but all in vain. We looked at each other in apprehension, realizing that I might have a serious problem. Our first thought was that it may have something to do with the medication I had taken. But why? I had taken it numerous times before. At length, after much debate, Ray decided to fetch the doctor.

This was in the days before we had a telephone, and when doctors still made house-calls.  Dr. Venter loyally arrived within minutes of Ray's return home. He had apparently been dragged away from his hobby; repairing old clocks - a laborious task. He joked about my 'lazy legs', but got down to giving me a serious examination.  He tested my reflexes in my legs and feet - nothing, nada! Starting at my toes, he stuck a pin in me, progressing all the way up my legs and abdomen. Only when the pin reached my navel area did I start to have any sensation. Doctor Venter let out a sigh, telling Ray to have me at a certain prestigious hospital the next morning.  He told us that his diagnosis was Guillain Barre Syndrome, explaining what this was.

I was panic stricken! We always think 'worst case scenario', don't we? What would happen to my three little girls if I was wheelchair bound for the rest of my life? The youngest was not even two years old.  How could I be a proper mommy and look after them, even if I had a good nanny? A million thoughts raced through my tortured brain.

That Sunday morning, Ray carried me to the car and delivered me to the hospital where I had my first unwanted ride in a wheelchair. I was mortified. Here I was, still in my twenties, and being wheeled around like an old woman.  I was put in a ward with four other ladies, soon to be whisked off to the X-ray room on a gurney. In the X-ray room, I stoutly declined the offers of two nurses to help me onto the X-ray table. I was fuming! I wasn't an invalid, and refused to be treated like one. I deftly lifted myself on my arms, moving my bum onto the table, then lifted and placed one leg, then the other. By then the nurses had strode off in high dudgeon at such shabby treatment from me. The radiologist raised her eyebrows and asked how long I had been paralysed. "Since yesterday", I spat at her. She walked off muttering something  like, "You act as if it were far longer." I took that as a compliment.

After getting back to the ward, I found that there was compensation for being in this hospital. I was brought a menu to choose my meals from. That had never happened to me in my life before. In the other hospitals I had been in, you usually got 'what the hell is that?' slopped onto your plate, then told you were wasting food when you didn't eat it. Here the meals were tastefully presented and I could actually distinguish what I had to eat; if only my appetite was better at that stage, I thought with a sigh.

Early next morning I was trundled down to theatre for a nasty surprise - a lumber-puncture. I had heard of such things, but still wasn't prepared for that mile-long needled to be forced between my vertebrae and into my spinal column. I must admit, the aftermath was far worse than the actual invasion of my spine. On my return to the ward, I discovered that my pillows had been spirited away. I was told that I had to lie flat on my back to await the results of the tests of the yellow fluid they had extracted from my spine. I soon found out why I had to lie flat. As soon as I lifted my head from the bed, the most excruciating pain shot through my head. None of the nurses would give me anything to alleviate the pain - cruel b*tches!

After lights-out that night, a sixth patient was wheeled into the ward. Her face was bright red and she wasn't talking. Word got around that she had double pneumonia. Late that night, most of the rest of us in the ward were still awake. The new lady was snoring so loudly that we couldn't get to sleep.  The lady in the bed opposite her rang her bell but not a soul came to investigate. After a while, I and two other ladies rang our bells too. We simply had to get some sleep but with this cacophony coming from the end bed, it was impossible.  Eventually a night nurse arrived to listen to our complaints. She turned wordlessly and disappeared out the door; we thought she had gone to fetch sleeping tablets for us, but no, she reappeared with a second nurse. Together they wheeled the offending patient out of the ward - we never saw her again. We heard it through the grape-vine next day that the patient had passed away later that night.

Next day my father and his sister appeared at my bedside. I had been napping most of the day and thought I was dreaming. My dad and aunt had driven all the way up from Kimberley to see me. I hadn't realised that Ray had contacted them by phone from his work. I don't remember too much of the visit as the after-effect of the lumber-puncture was still working. Ray had also brought our little girls to see me one afternoon. Usually he visited only at night, due to his work. It did make me realise that there was still another world outside of the hospital walls, and they still loved me. I just wanted to get well and go home.  Trust me to contract one of the rarest syndromes  known to man.

One morning, an extremely good-looking young man appeared at my bedside. He announced that he was a physiotherapist and was there to give me therapy. I politely declined - because my legs were unshaven! On reflection, I can't believe how vain I was. How stupid and petty of me? Did I really want to extend my stay in hospital until my muscles had atrophied?  Really dumb, huh?

One night I awoke to the need to turn over. I did this with no difficulty and suddenly realised what had happened. I had moved without a struggle. I experimented a bit more. I managed to wiggle the big toe of one foot - it was a miracle, I WAS going to beat this stupid syndrome! I was so excited that I never slept the rest of the night.

Within a day or two, I was going to the washroom down the passage by myself. Okay, so I was hanging into the wall to steady myself, but I was mobile again despite the lingering pain in my head. I was discharged the next day, hours after the official results of all the tests came through. I had had Guillain Barre Syndrome, but managed to recover without one ounce of medication or treatment of any kind.

I had managed to skip the tingling sensations in me feet at the onset of my illness, or maybe it was brief and I had slept through it. Maybe my myelin sheaths (go ahead and Google) had grown super fast, or that I was just extremely lucky. Whichever way, I had astounded all the doctors with my swift recovery.  

Full recovery took somewhat longer. I suffered from short term memory loss for months afterwards, I don't know if that had anything to do with the syndrome, or if it was due to the lumber puncture. Eventually I returned to normal, or should I say, as 'normal' as I ever would be. I managed to be a proper mommy to my little girls, - well I hope so at any rate. They grew up to be lovely, charming young ladies. I was, and still am, extremely proud of our girls.



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